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The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis in Stack Overflow

by   Nicholas Hoernle, et al.

According to the goal-gradient hypothesis, people increase their efforts toward a reward as they close in on the reward. This hypothesis has recently been used to explain users' behavior in online communities that use badges as rewards for completing specific activities. In such settings, users exhibit a "steering effect," a dramatic increase in activity as the users approach a badge threshold, thereby following the predictions made by the goal-gradient hypothesis. This paper provides a new probabilistic model of users' behavior, which captures users who exhibit different levels of steering. We apply this model to data from the popular Q A site, Stack Overflow, and study users who achieve one of the badges available on this platform. Our results show that only a fraction (20 activity of more than 40 badge. In particular, we find that for some of the population, an increased activity in and around the badge acquisition date may reflect a statistical artifact rather than steering, as was previously thought in prior work. These results are important for system designers who hope to motivate and guide their users towards certain actions. We have highlighted the need for further studies which investigate what motivations drive the non-steered users to contribute to online communities.


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